The Gallery of Fake Viral Images
When an image "goes viral" it means that something about the image is compelling, intriguing, or bizarre, which inspires numerous people to share it with others. Sometimes these images are humorous. Sometimes they're shocking. But it's relatively common for them to also be fake because hoaxers purposefully try to create dramatic, attention-grabbing scenes that people will want to share. They do this by changing or distorting an element within a photo, or by recaptioning 'real' images to make them tell a more interesting story.

Fake viral images have become a hallmark of the Internet. But if we look back through history, it's possible to find fake images spreading in a viral fashion even in the late 19th century, when photos circulated via picture postcards or in magazines. So the phenomenon is older than most people might assume.

The images in this gallery are arranged in descending chronological order, starting with the present and going all the way back to the 1860s. The date on each image indicates when, to the best of our knowledge, it first went viral.
April 2015
Claim: A two-and-a-half year old girl is protected by her four year old brother in Nepal, in the aftermath of the region's devastating earthquake.
Reality: The photo was actually taken in Vietnam by photographer Na Son Nguyen in October 2007. Despite the many tales that have been woven about the two kids, he says that the young girl was simply frightened by the presence of a stranger, which prompted her brother to comfort her. They were not orphans. More…
April 2015
Claim: A "spawning orca" attacks a bear in a stream on Vancouver Island. The migration of these huge creatures from ocean to lake and stream is an annual occurrence unique to this part of the world.
Reality: The photo originated as an April Fool's Day joke posted on the Heart of Vancouver Island Facebook page. Some people who encountered it after April 1st apparently took it seriously. More…
Nov. 2014
Claim: This woman is the "Angel of Kobane" — a female Kurdish soldier who has single-handedly slain over 100 Islamic State fighters.
Reality: The woman has been identified as a former law student who volunteered with the home guard or police force of Kobane, and isn't a front-line fighter. Therefore it's unlikely she's killed huge numbers of the enemy. More…
Sep. 2014
Claim: This is an ad scanned from a 1980s technology catalog offering a "Free U2 tape with every cassette player." The offer is surprisingly similar to U2's giveaway of their album released in 2014 as a free download to all iTunes users.
Reality: It's a faux vintage ad, adapted from a scan of a 1986 Argos catalog page. It was intended as a spoof of the U2 album giveaway. The Twitter user who first posted it added the comment: "Exactly how long have U2 been forcing their music on us for?!" More…
July 2014
Claim: This is the packaging for a new flavor of Oreos — Fried Chicken Oreos!
Reality: PR reps for Oreo cookies confirmed to reporters who inquired that there's no such thing as Fried Chicken Oreos. Although it is true that Oreos come in some unusual flavors, such as cookie dough, candy corn, green tea ice cream, limeaid, orange ice cream, etc. The Fried Chicken Oreo picture was adapted from the cover art for Watermelon Oreos. More…
April 2014
Claim: Just some friendly Australian wildlife! An emu revealing the sharp rows of its teeth.
Reality: Emus don't have teeth like that. Someone (unknown) digitally added a row of shark's teeth to the bird. The original image of the emu (without sharp teeth) comes from wikimedia commons. More…
Feb. 2014
Claim: Recent freezing weather in Venice, Italy created this scene of a frozen canal.
Reality: The image is a composite created by Robert Johns. He took ice from a photo of Lake Baikal and inserted it into a photo of Venice. He's done a series of these frozen Venice images, intending them as art. But people on social media mistook them for actual photos. More…
Feb. 2014
Claim: A house installed on a ship's helipad. The ultimate houseboat!
Reality: The boat is a VARD Offshore Subsea Construction Vessel. In real life it doesn't carry a house on its helipad. The composite image was created by a Norwegian construction firm as a humorous way to illustrate its campaign urging people to "Realize your dream home in the New Year!" More…
Jan. 2014
Claim: A Syrian boy, orphaned by the war, sleeps between the graves of his parents.
Reality: A staged shot taken by a photographer in Saudi Arabia as part of a conceptual art project. The graves were fake, and the boy was the photographer's nephew. When the photographeri realized that the photo was being misunderstood, he uploaded more photos showing other shots of his nephew during the photoshoot, to demonstrate that the scene was a staged art project. More…
Jan. 2014
Claim: A giant squid, grown to mutant size because of radiation from Fukushima radiation, washed ashore near Santa Monica.
Reality: The image is a composite created by a humor site, The Lightly Braised Turnip. It combines a digitally enlarged image of a giant squid that washed ashore in Spain and a beach scene from a Nov 2011 story about a dead whale washed ashore in Chile. More…
Claim: Female toughs, members of one of the most feared of all London's street gangs in 1880's, the Clockwork Oranges.
Reality: There never was a 19th-century gang known as the Clockwork Oranges. The phrase appears nowhere before Anthony Burgess used it as the title of his 1962 novel. A Facebook community known as The Victorian Academy of Magick invented this caption for the image in 2013. However, this is genuinely an image from the 19th century. More…
Dec. 2013
Claim: Santa's identity revealed! A chocolate rabbit was found inside a St. Nicholas wrapper.
Reality: This wasn't a case of a chocolate manufacturer repackaging Easter bunnies for the Christmas market. The image comes from a Dutch ad campaign designed to promote awareness of Alzheimer's disease. The original ad included a third image showing the rabbit more fully unwrapped, revealing the message, "Alzheimer's patients are coping with this feeling daily." More…
Dec. 2013
Claim: The Sphinx covered in snow after the first snowfall in Cairo for 112 years.
Reality: The Sphinx in the photo is actually a miniature model of the Sphinx located in the Tobu World Square theme park in Japan. The theme park has miniature models of many other famous attractions from around the world. More…
Nov. 2013
Claim: Paris Hilton wore a tank top to a party with the message: "Stop Being Poor."
Reality: The image is photoshopped. In the original photo, taken by photographer Vince Flores at the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas on April 15, 2005, the message on her shirt reads: "Stop Being Desperate." There's quite a few shots of her at the party wearing this tank-top. More…
Oct. 2013
Claim: The Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye, Scotland.
Reality: This is actually a photo of the Shotover River in New Zealand. The vegetation there is a normal shade of green. The vivid purple color is artificial, achieved by means of a color filter. More…
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